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Common Cow-wheat

Melampyrum pratense

  • Family: Broomrape Family – Orobanchaceae
    (formerly Figwort Family – Scrophulariaceae)
  • Growing form: Annual herb. Hemiparasite.
  • Height: 10–40 cm (4–16 in.). Varyingly branched.
  • Flower: Corolla zygomorphic, quite pale, bright or dark yellow or reddish, often fused, bilabiate, with long white tube, 10–18 mm (0.4–0.72 in.) long. Upper lip hooded, flat-sided; lower lip straight, 3-lobed. Calyx fused, 4-lobed, lobes 4–5 mm (0.16–0.2 in.) long, narrow, parallel, arching. Stamens 4. Pistil of 2 fused carpels. Flowers in pairs in axils of bracts, on one side of stem.
  • Leaves: Opposite, almost stalkless. Blade narrowly lanceolate–almost linear. Lower subtending bracts with entire margins, upper usually with toothed base or with long and narrow lobes.
  • Fruit: Elliptic, flat, capsule roughly twice as long as calyx, usually with 4 seeds.
  • Habitat: Dryish and young moors, also rocky outcrops, firm dryish ground and lower tundra areas.
  • Flowering time: June–August.

Common cow-wheat is Finland’s most common cow-wheat. It arrived in the country in the latter part of the Ice Age. It is diverse, which is apparently due to the fact that a number of different kinds of small and large-flowered populations have arrived in Finland at different times. Cow-wheat’s so-called seasonal variation – it is sparsely noded and almost branchless in early summer and large, many-noded and abundantly branched at the end of summer – makes things even more confusing. Common cow-wheat is a hemiparasite which sucks nutrition from its neighboring plant, especially pine and cowberry roots.

Cow-wheat’s nectar can be found at the end of its constricted calyx-tube, and it can only be reached by insects that have a long proboscis, especially bees. If the flower is not pollinated, it will pollinate itself. Common cow-wheat is an annual and so seed production is of the utmost importance: if there is no seed there will be no summer! Its seeds germinate in the autumn, overwinter under snow and continue growing the following year, so the species is therefore an autumn annual.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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